September 26, 2011
After an absence of ten years, master director John Carpenter's new film The Ward was treated as if it were suddenly deposited in a kitty litter box. It only opened in a couple of theaters, and after disastrous reviews and poor box office, a wider release never materialized. There were cries of Carpenter being "rusty" or "in decline," similar to claims made against Hitchcock, Hawks, Welles, and Chaplin during their later years. Perhaps worse, Carpenter chose to tell a rather old-fashioned ghost story, wherein a ghost sometimes pops out from the shadows. Additionally, the script has a twist ending that further irritated his detractors.Continue reading "The Ward"
Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938
The National Film Preservation Foundation, located in San Francisco, has been quietly releasing extraordinary DVD box sets over the past ten years, entitled the "Treasures" series. There isn't a better word for it. These sets are packed with little gems that had to be dug up and assessed before it could be determined how valuable they were. The first set (Treasures from American Film Archives), from 2000, came with fifty comedies, dramas, experimental films, cartoons, newsreels, documentaries, and tons of other stuff, all historically valuable as well as entertaining. Volume Two, from 2004, had more just like it. Volume Three focused on Social Issues, and Volume Four looked at Avant-Garde Film.Continue reading "Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938"
September 20, 2011
Le Quattro Volte (The Four Times)
Michelangelo Frammartino's La Quattro Volte ("The Four Times") is about a goatherd who dies and is reborn as a goat. The goat briefly frolics before it loses its way in a forest and dies of starvation and exposure to the elements. However, the goat’s essence lives on; its being is assimilated into a tree, which is then cut down and converted into charcoal. The end, spoiler alert, etc.
Volte dares you to process it simply, even though it’s composed of eighty minutes of rather simple, wordless, shots. The plot and actors matter very little and are eclipsed by Frammartino’s impressive formal flexing. Volte is more of an installation piece or a moving monograph.Continue reading "Le Quattro Volte (The Four Times)"
The majestic forests of Turkey -- who knew? Sure, we've heard about minarets and the massacre of Armenians, but I, for one, certainly had never heard about all this lush greenery? I know now, thanks to filmmaker Semih Kaplanoglu and his "Yusuf" Trilogy, of which BAL (Honey) is the final film. And a beautiful, quiet, sad addition to the threesome it is. It is also an immensely educational movie -- from the forest that plays a big part in the riveting opening scene to the schooling of the leading character, who stutters (but without the royal pedigree of our Oscar-wining king and his speech). Bal is also, unfortunately, a rather slow movie.Continue reading "Bal (Honey)"
September 12, 2011
Yuen Woo-Ping began his career as an actor in martial arts movies in the 1960s. He rose to prominence when he directed the breakthrough Drunken Master (1978), one of Jackie Chan's greatest early roles. He began a multi-faceted career, involving acting, stunts, fight choreography, and occasional directing. His feats became known in America and he was hired to choreograph the exciting, fluid, fast-paced action sequences for movies like The Matrix series, the Kill Bill movies, and Unleashed as well as international productions like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Kung Fu Hustle, and Fearless. In 2001, Quentin Tarantino helped bring Yuen's dazzling Iron Monkey (1993) to American theaters. But despite all this notice, acclaim, and employment, he has not directed another movie in over ten years. Thankfully True Legend comes out on DVD this week, and it's a real stunner.Continue reading "True Legend"
Peter Mullan is a wonderful actor (The Red Riding Trilogy, Boy A, Children of Men) and a good writer/director (Orphans, The Magdalene Sisters and now, NEDS -- which stands for Non-Educated Delinquents.
Although his latest film -- which deals, and very well, with the smarter, younger son of a dysfunctional family who gets slowly sucked into "gang" life -- was part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival line-up, it did not get much, if any, of a theatrical release. It is, however, certainly worth seeing, which makes its recent DVD debut appreciated, despite a major flaw in the film.Continue reading "NEDS"
September 6, 2011
Face to Face
If movies are the art form that comes closest to replicating our dreams -- sounds and images dancing before our eyes in the dark -- then, ironically, very few filmmakers have come anywhere near to capturing the elusive rhythm of dreams. David Lynch, Orson Welles, and Luis Bunuel have all succeeded from time to time, and especially Ingmar Bergman. A short nightmare sequence in Wild Strawberries (1957) is quite chilling, and the whole of Persona (1966) has the possibility to move in any direction, at any time.Continue reading "Face to Face"
August 30, 2011
Eclipse Series 28 - The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara
The Warped Ones: ***½
I Hate But Love: ***½
Black Sun: ****½
Thirst for Love: ***½
Koreyoshi Kurahara is most well-known for the 1983 ”sled dogs overcome cruel nature” piece Antarctica (Nankyoku Monogatari) which was Japan’s number one box office smash for over a decade. Diving into the five early Kurahara features featured in this set, however, it’s hard to imagine him being picked for such a Disneyesque enterprise.
The set begins simply enough with Intimidation (1960), a tamped-down caper that twists and turns right up to the last of its scant 65 minutes. Just as bank manager Mr. Takita (Nobuo Kaneko) is enjoying his ascension to the upper echelon of society, his past sins return to haunt him whilst compelling him to embezzle three million yen from his bank’s vault. Takita enlists his long-suffering “friend,” a pathetic underling named Nakaike (a heartbreaking, soulful Akira Nishimura), as a sort of fall guy. Naturally, nothing goes according to anyone’s plan and it’s only a matter of time before fate sinks its teeth into all involved.Continue reading "Eclipse Series 28 - The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara"
The Complete Jean Vigo (Taris, À propos de Nice, Zéro de conduite, L'Atalante)
Imagine a filmmaker dying of Tuberculosis at the age of 29, leaving behind only four films, whose running time totals less than 3 hours. In the age of YouTube, such an event wouldn't rate much more than a single morning's news story, if that. But in the case of Jean Vigo (1905-1934), his legend has endured across a century. There are many tales about him, such as that his anarchist father was murdered in prison, and that Vigo himself directed much of his final film from a stretcher. He has inspired so many filmmakers, everyone from Francois Truffaut to Michel Gondry, and hardly a list of the greatest films goes by without a mention of one of Vigo's extraordinary works.Continue reading "The Complete Jean Vigo (Taris, À propos de Nice, Zéro de conduite, L'Atalante)"
August 23, 2011
Cameraman: The Life And Work Of Jack Cardiff
"How do you get an idea that hits you here," Martin Scorsese asks, jabbing a finger at the center of his forehead, " an image that hits you here, and then translate it through this… this… piece of equipment?"
The piece of equipment Scorsese is referring to, of course, is the movie camera. No one knew better how to translate the thoughts of directors through the unwieldy workings of a camera than Jack Cardiff, the subject of Cameraman.
A fifteen-year labor of love, Craig McCall’s documentary mines the career of Cardiff, the pioneering cinematographer known best for his three collaborations with "The Archers" (Micheal Powell and Emeric Pressburger). Those films – A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes – remain benchmarks of cinematic innovation.Continue reading "Cameraman: The Life And Work Of Jack Cardiff"
August 16, 2011
David Holzman's Diary
Until I watched Kino’s new DVD special edition of David Holzman's Diary, I was only familiar with its significance as a hatch-mark on a film history timeline. Diary is often cited as one of the earliest mockumentaries, prefiguring (among others) Christopher Guest’s skewering of self-serious musicians, dog show denizens, community theater actors, etc.
In this case, director Jim McBride aims his satirical guns at a particular type of pseudo-intellectual, the eponymous Holzman (L.M. Kit Carson, who co-wrote the film with McBride). Holzman is a recently unemployed cinema obsessive who decides to film himself over the course of a week in July 1967. He cites Godard’s oft-repeated axiom that “film is truth 24 frames per second” as his mantra. As the film unfolds, it becomes abundantly clear that Holzman is a budding sociopath, documenting his own devolution. Holzman makes for insufferable company, both for his (soon to be ex-) girlfriend Penny (Eileen Dietz) and the viewer.Continue reading "David Holzman's Diary"